CHAMPCAR/CART: Milwaukee Mercedes Preview

MONTVALE, N.J. (May 21, 1998) -- Imagine a microwave oven with 120 high-powered explosions going off inside of it every second. Now imagine offering a warranty on that microwave. Crazy as it sounds, the Mercedes-Benz IC108E Champ...

MONTVALE, N.J. (May 21, 1998) -- Imagine a microwave oven with 120 high-powered explosions going off inside of it every second. Now imagine offering a warranty on that microwave.

Crazy as it sounds, the Mercedes-Benz IC108E Champ Car engine, which delivers approximately 850 horsepower at more than 14,000 rpm from a package only slightly larger than an average microwave oven, is fully warrantied. Each of the five teams running Mercedes-Benz engines at the Miller Lite 200 at The Milwaukee Mile, May 29-31, is saving money this season because of the Mercedes-Benz Race Engine Warranty Program.

"It's the reliability of our engines that enables us to offer a warranty," said Paul Ray, vice president, Ilmor Engineering, the race engine design and manufacturing arm of Mercedes-Benz. "That program has allowed us to maintain the cost-per-mile of running a Mercedes-Benz engine in the CART series, which is pretty amazing when you think about just how far we've come in terms of engine technology over the last couple of years -- particularly this year."

How it Works

The Mercedes-Benz Engine Warranty Program establishes a fixed price for engine rebuilds based on a standard service interval of 450 miles for engines in road course and short oval specification, and 550 miles for the heavier-duty superspeedway specification. Provided the engine was not damaged due to accident or team error, the cost of a rebuild will never be greater than that fixed price.

If, for any reason, Mercedes-Benz requires an engine to be returned before the end of the normal service interval, a common occurrence in the early stages of development of an engine, the cost of the rebuild is prorated (i.e., the cost of a rebuild on a 450-mile engine after 225 miles of running is half of the regular service price).

"Should there ever be an engine failure -- and those have been rare -- the price to the team is based upon the miles the engine completed, regardless of the parts and labor required for the rebuild," said Ray. "It gives us a simple formula to pretty accurately predict season-long engine budgets. The team estimates the number of miles they'll run in testing and at race weekends, then we calculate the number of rebuilds they'll likely need and multiply by the standard price."

The Bottom Line

Customer service is an important facet of the Mercedes-Benz Race Engine Warranty Program, but the bottom line is where it really pays off. Like any endeavor that pushes the performance and technology envelope, racing is expensive. Published figures suggest that to run a competitive one-car team in the FedEx Championship Series costs between $6 million and $10 million per year, with an average, season-long engine budget representing about $2 million of that total. The Mercedes-Benz Race Engine Program helps keep those figures from rising.

Just as Mercedes-Benz has, in recent years, focused on building increased value into its passenger vehicles, Ilmor Engineering, the race engine design and manufacturing arm of Mercedes, has done the same for its customers in CART through the Race Engine Warranty Program. From 1995 -- Mercedes' first full year as a CART engine manufacturer -- through the 1997 championship-winning season, the change in the nominal cost-per-mile to teams using Mercedes-Benz engines was just 13 cents. When corrected for inflation, the cost has actually decreased by approximately five percent.

"The level of competition in this series is constantly rising," said Ray. "And with that usually comes an increase in the cost. We're doing whatever we can to fight that increase, and we're very proud of the fact that, despite really significant gains in technology, we have been able to offer our partners the same level of service or better while holding the line on cost."

Racing Against Cost

A major factor in the rising cost of racing is the increase in the number of miles teams run each year. As the table below indicates, most of these additional miles are due to expanded testing programs, a measure of the level of competition in the FedEx Championship Series. Mercedes-Benz is working to help contain the rising cost of racing. Despite dramatic increases in technology, it has been able to maintain the cost-per-mile of running a Mercedes-Benz racing engine in the FedEx Championship Series for the last three years.

1996 1997 %Change Total number of racing miles 3,638 3,948 8.5% Team "A" total miles (racing + testing) 6,945 12,606 81.5% Team "B" total miles (racing + testing) 8,587 11,295 31.5% Avg. rebuilds per engine across all Mercedes-powered teams 4.09 5.75 40.6%

Note: Actual Mercedes-Benz team mileage and rebuild data supplied by Ilmor Engineering.

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Series IndyCar